|Arts & EntertainmentFood For ThoughtHomeward BoundJust BusinessRoad TripThis & That|
In Her Shoes
Two and a Half Stars
by Hanh Nguyen, Zap2it.com
"In Her Shoes" is Oscar-winning director Curtis Hanson's walk on the womanly side that occasionally missteps on its long journey to the all-important truths that the fairer sex is supposed to know.
Based on the best-selling novel by Jennifer Weiner, the film at least succeeds in foiling the "chick flick" label that the cast and filmmakers have been rabidly disparaging. Although there are elements of romance, this is no fluffy romantic comedy with an absurd premise and pursuit "so I can declare my love" scene at the end. Instead, "In Her Shoes" stays fairly grounded in the land of the probable, which only makes it that more disappointing when it doesn't quite ring true.
Odd couple sisters Rose (Toni Collette) -- a staid, competent lawyer -- and hot, dyslexic, freeloader Maggie (Cameron Diaz) can barely be within screaming distance of one another without bickering. The only thing they think they have in common besides a good percentage of DNA is a penchant for beautiful, impractical shoes.
Unfortunately, the basic premise that Collette and Diaz are sisters with a deep, unspoken bond just doesn't fly, and it's not because one is a average-looking brunette and the other is a model-thin blonde. No, somehow they lack the casual onscreen chemistry that should have been able to develop given that the film runs a wearisome 130 minutes long. Part of the problem is that after a nigh-unforgivable act of betrayal, the sisters spend the majority of the film separated.
More successful is the relationship between Maggie and her long-lost grandmother Ella (Shirley MacLaine), who takes Maggie under her wing. After Diaz powers through the first act playing an annoying drunk and petulant brat, she settles into a rather quiet, understated performance that nicely balances MacLaine's restraint. The Oscar-winning legend proves that she can still own the screen even when she does nothing but glance and purse her lips.
Even though it's second nature for Maggie to use her sexuality, the film's gaze colors almost every scene. If she's not walking around in underwear and stilettos (privately of course), she's strutting around in her skimpy bathing suit. While these are perfectly realistic behaviors, it's Hanson's focus on how she is observed that makes it disturbing, but perhaps that's the point. First, there's her MTV audition where she has a camera trained on her. Later at Ella's retirement village, elderly men get whiplash ogling Maggie's bikini-clad body as it passes by. The gaze isn't confined to men, though. Maggie often observes herself in mirrors and glass throughout the film, and in one scene, Rose comes face to face with her sister's cleavage before moving her eyes upward.
That said, "In Her Shoes" is an unabashedly feminine film with a female point of view. Obvious points include the multigenerational shoe fetish and the Maggie/Ella bonding moment when they watch "Sex & the City." The strangest feminine wish fulfillment comes in the form of a man. Rose's optimistic co-worker Simon Stein (Mark Feuerstein) proves to be the perfect suitor, not because he's a testosterone-laden male, but because he's a surrogate female that happens to have a Y chromosome. He reads romance novels to Rose (props for including real bodice-ripper "Captain Jack's Woman), urges her to share her feelings and is obsessed with food ("You'll want to eat with me for the rest of your life.").
Hanson ought to have set the soul-searching at a brisker pace, with less explicitly meaningful scenes. At one point, Maggie is urged to compensate for her dyslexia and reads an Elizabeth Bishop poem in its entirety on screen, followed by an equally tedious ad hoc literary analysis that just so happens to parallel her feelings for her estranged sister. Once again, since the sisters never presented a believable bond in the first place, their moping and hand-wringing when apart lack conviction.
Eventually, Rose and Maggie stand firm on their size 8 1/2 feet, which is when deep, but not necessarily surprising, secrets are revealed by Ella. Now that these three women have found themselves and each other again, the world makes sense. The conclusion is somewhat satisfying -- after all, there's a wedding -- but you have to sit through Maggie's newfound love of reciting poetry again.
Overall, "In Her Shoes" makes an earnest and commendable effort to present women as flawed but not pitiful creatures. Although the message is more about self-respect and family ties, it's often muddled by the trappings of feminine metaphor and estrogen-fueled hysterics. Solid performances by MacLaine, Diaz and the determined yet vulnerable Collette will bring the point home despite this uneven foundation.